We report back from the Berlin Film Festival

The Berlinale (Berlin Film Festival) is one of the major film industry events in the world alongside Cannes and Toronto. It is important as both a showcase (the official festival) and a marketplace (the European Film Market), and there are also initiatives such as the Talent Campus (350 emerging filmmakers from around the world) and Co-Production Market (uniting producers and financiers).

Rachel Hayward and I visited the festival to see a wide cross-section of films over a week of the festival, sharing accommodation with local academics Andy Willis (University of Salford) and Felicia Chan (University of Manchester). It’s a good job we all know each other as the apartment was cosy but it did its job and that’s all part of the festival experience! Unlike other festivals no one slept on the floor this time!

A central mission is to see as many films that are going to released in the UK as possible to gauge if we should show the film, and if so, how (i.e. whether on date or later to get better terms). Our film policy is the ‘specialised’ cinema across six distinct categories from cross-over hits to historical to non-fiction. A secondary mission is to watch films for specific parts of our programme including Viva!, Asian cinema and artists’ film and video. These are the films that are not likely to be released and so we would import them especially for festivals and special events – usually the only way to be able to afford to do so. So it’s vitally important to our ethos and sustainability that we see these films and gather intelligence on the industry.

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many British and Irish films in both the festival and market, and quality ones at that! Submarine which is out next month (from Fri 18 March at Cornerhouse) is a superb film by a first time director and I truly think Warp Films are leading in the indie film company pack at the moment. From Ireland, also came The Guard that’s likely to be a hit with UK audiences, a comedy police yarn meets culture clash with the unlikely pairing of Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle!

Unfortunately I wasn’t so successful with my choice of artists’ films – these often appear in the Forum and Forum expanded section of the Festival. I was disappointed by Santiago Sierra’s No, Global Tour that lacked direction and structure, surprising for an artist of Sierra’s stature and perhaps a warning that not all artists can translate into the medium. Rainer Kirberg’s The Sleeping Girl promises much as a self-reflexive artistic experiment about an art student of Beuys and the girl he finds sleeping in the park. However, it is unable to break away from the clichés of 70s art film that it evokes and fundamentally fails to excite. More interesting was Danish filmmaker Jannik Splidsboel’s self funded documentary about art superstars Elmgreen and Dragset, following their story from their meeting through to the much lauded Danish & Nordic Pavilion at the last Venice Bienniale.

To round up, here’s a selection of my other highlights and lowlights… An indie hit is The Future, Miranda July’s quirky second feature after Me, You and Everyone We Know is a treat whilst an indie flop is Meek’s Cutoff from the previously better Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy). Fans of Bela Tarr will be delighted by the art house auteur’s slow burning The Turin Horse, though note it’s six takes in two and a half hours! Also a bit longer than necessary is Little White Lies (opens here in April) though it’s a star packed ensemble piece from director Guillaume Canet (Tell No One). Fans of haunted house horror films will enjoy Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, produced by Guillermo del Toro and starring Guy Pierce and Katie Holmes, and finally people who love dogs (like me!) will be looking out for Red Dog an indie Australian comedy adapted from Louis de Bernieres’s novel based on nearly true stories.